IDP Start/Sit – Divisional Round
Another weekend of playoff football, and four top notch games. I love January, and the fact we get to continue playing fantasy football as well makes it all the better. Without further ado, let’s get stuck into the matchups.
There is a good spread of matchups this week, with three teams playing who ranked in the top ten (Seattle 6th, Green Bay 8th and Colts 10th) as well as three teams in the bottom ten (Broncos 25th, Ravens 26th and Patriots 30th). It’s the Panthers defensive lineman who get the best matchup of the weekend, and their No. 1 pass rusher, Charles Johnson, who recorded two sacks last week in a tough matchup with Arizona, looks set to have a second productive week in a row. As I noted last week, Johnson did have four games this year when he recorded zero fantasy points, so he is a boom-or-bust pick still.
The top defensive end playing this weekend is the Patriots Chandler Jones who will face off against the Ravens on Saturday, and as previously mentioned are one of the tougher matchups this weekend. Baltimore conceded on average just 13.5 points a week to defensive ends, and of the 60 defensive ends who suited up against them during the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16), only five reached double figures; J.J. Watt (20pts – Week 16), Corey Liuget (14pts – Week 13), Jared Crick (14pts – Week 16), Wallace Gilberry (13pts – Week 1), William Gholston (10pts – Week 6). Jones’ teammate, Rob Ninkovich, ended the season as a DE1 and offers a high floor to owners because of his tackle production, but as with Jones, the stifling Baltimore offensive line will look to clamp down on their effectiveness on the field.
Another DE1 to get on the field this weekend is Demarcus Ware, and the Broncos do have a decent matchup in the 10th ranked Colts. Ware though, like Johnson, has been a boom-or-bust scorer in 2014. On three occasions he scored 19 or more points, but he also scored two points or less on four occasions. He has also matched up against the Colts previously this season, in Week 1 when he scored 8.5 points and recorded 1.5 sacks.
Although I’d rate Jones as a better player at this point of his career, I’d have Ware ranked above him this week based on the matchup (although Jones would be a safer play and have a higher floor), and place Charles Johnson as the No. 3 defensive end this week.
The tougher matchups this week fall to Baltimore and Indianapolis, neither of which have a pass rusher of fantasy relevance, so my recommended sits this week are the Seattle duo of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Not only are the Panthers one of the poorer matchups, but simply the four previously mentioned players are all better plays this week.
Starts – Demarcus Ware, Chandler Jones, Charles Johnson, (Rob Ninkovich).
Sits – Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
Like the defensive ends this week, the variety in the quality of the matchups for linebackers make some of the start/sit decisions pretty easy. The Panthers (2nd) and Colts (5th) both rank in the top five, while Broncos (26th) and Packers (31st) featured in the bottom six teams.
On that note Bobby Wagner benefits and will be my No.1 linebacker this week thanks to the bumper matchup. Wagner has been a LB1 for multiple seasons, and although he missed that status due to missing five games this year, he averaged 13.4 points per game, which over a full 16-game season would have seen him rank firmly as a LB1. Having scored double-digit points in seven-out-of-ten appearance this year, including the last four games of the fantasy season, Wagner is primed for a big game this week.
The unstoppable Luke Kuechly is on the other side of that matchup on Saturday night, and after putting up big points last week against a tough Cardinals team, can be expected to score highly again against the 11th ranked Seahawks.
With the Colts also being a good matchup for linebackers that makes Von Miller an intriguing play. Being an edge rusher his scores can be volatile, but having notched up double-digit points in nine games this year he is much more reliable than most players who play a similar role for their respective teams. I’d have a preference for his teammate Brandon Marshall though, who is battling a mid-foot sprain which cost him Week 16 and 17, to be able to play on Sunday. Marshall was one of just four linebackers to score over 200 points last year (despite missing Week 16), the others being DeAndre Levy, Lavonte David and Luke Kuechly.
The flipside of the matchup is not a good one for the Colts linebackers as the Broncos rank 26th for fantasy linebackers. Although D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman are consistent scoring LB2s with LB1 upside on occasions, this isn’t one of those weeks. With the previously mentioned players in better matchups, let alone C.J. Mosely (better player, marginally better matchup – the 21st ranked Patriots) there are better options this week when you have a free choice on who to play.
Continuing to look for players to sit this week, not only is Rolando McClain still not practicing following a concussion, but the Cowboys’ linebacker must also overcome a 31st ranked Packers defense for fantasy linebackers. Despite being a revelation this year and a player I have endorsed most of the season, he’s one to avoid this week.
Starts – Bobby Wagner, Luke Kuechly, Brandon Marshall, (Von Miller)
Sits – D’Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman and Rolando McClain.
Another spread of matchups with three top ten teams (Cowboys 4th, Patriots 7th and Packers 9th), as well as two ranked in the bottom six (Seahawks 26th, Ravens 32nd), and as a result, a clear No.1 defensive back this weekend; Morgan Burnett. The Packers safety is a bone fide DB1, ending the season as the fifth highest scoring safety despite missing a game, and gets the best matchup this weekend. Enough said.
In the same matchup Barry Church is marginally preferred to Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and would rank as my second and third defensive backs this weekend, over Kam Chancellor and T.J. Ward based on their matchups alone. These four are all closely matched, but the hottest hand is arguably Ward who improved his fantasy scoring immensely over the second half of the season. The Colts ranked 13th for points allowed to safeties so I’d prefer Ward over Chancellor and could also make a case for starting Ward over Clinton-Dix as well.
The Panthers and Patriots don’t offer fantasy options near to the level of the aforementioned players, so their poor matchups are a moot point. You weren’t going to start Roman Harper or Devin McCourty over the likes of Burnett, Church or Ward. Beware of getting clever and playing Mike Adams, despite his excellent season, as the Broncos (18th) are a middling matchup. I’d also steer clear of Earl Thomas (No. 30 ranked fantasy safety in 2014) because despite being one of the most talented safeties playing right now, isn’t an elite fantasy option. It’s easy to get sucked into starting Thomas in a week when only eight teams play, because of his reputation, but unless he intercepts a Cam Newton pass, he’ll struggle to be an impact player this week.
Ross Miles is a Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter – @RossMilesNFL
Need more specific advice, start/sit help or expert opinions on trades? Let us know on Facebook by joining the conversation